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Women miners confronting gender inequality together

28 May, 2021Confronting gender inequality and promoting a transformative agenda for women in the mining industry are some of the issues discussed at the IndustriALL’s first global network meeting for women in mining, which brought together 100 participants, mainly women miners, from 16 countries.

The meeting concurred that the abuse of women working in the mines is driven by a toxic masculinity culture. Gender based violence, both physical and verbal, is prevalent.

Women face sexism and sexual harassment on a daily basis; 40 per cent of women mine workers surveyed in Canada had experienced unacceptable behavior like sexist remarks or unappropriated touching; women miners have been raped and killed in South African mines. Although some mining companies have developed policies, little action is taken to protect women workers, with some companies turning a blind eye to the reported cases.

Lucineide Varjão Soares, IndustriALL regional co-chair, mining sector co-chair and CNQ/CUT president, Brazil said:

“The participation of women in mining is not only a women’s issue but a trade union issue. Unions must organize and support women miners. Their voices must be heard and celebrated. Importantly, we must build solidarity with women miners to confront the challenges ahead.”

A perpetuation of gender stereotypes, gender discrimination, gender pay gaps, limited maternity protection, precarious working conditions, unfair dismissals, unsafe working conditions, and inappropriate personal protective equipment are all obstacles to women advancement.

Current laws and regulations are major barriers against women employment in the mines. ILO Convention 45, adopted in 1935 prohibiting the participation of women in mining sectors, is outdated and discriminatory but still in force in 68 countries. Camila Meireles from the ILO told participants that the organization is promoting a new approach protecting workers under C176.

Participants emphasized the importance of implementing national gender equality laws, and that countries should ratify ILO C190 and C176.

“We demand that the health and safety committee be involved in the mines where women are working to promote employment equity. We want an end to sexist remarks, touching and hidden cameras in women’s bathrooms. The bullying and harassment of indigenous women, harassed more than other women, must stop,”

said Deb Veit, UNIFOR, Canada.

Participants agreed that they want more spaces to open for discussions on gender inequality in the mining industry. Unions were urged to play an active role in making mining companies accountable. Often mining companies focused on gender imbalances at the expense of other issues.

For instance, the health needs of women miners, establishing breastfeeding areas and bathrooms at workplaces continue to be ignored.

 “It is the duty of the union as a watchdog to stop gender discrimination. We have fought for maternity protection in collective bargaining agreements and campaigned for gender equality,”

said Lydia Nkopane, National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa.

Recommendations from the meeting include identifying and developing more inclusive and diverse unions, with an increased representation and active participation of women, promoting gender equality in collective bargaining and social dialogue, as well as attracting more women to the mining industry from sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Women will also benefit equally with men from new technologies and Industry 4.0. Men should also receive training on gender equality and be part of the campaigns. Gender equality should also be promoted in artisanal and small-scale mining.

Hidanora Pérez, Sintracarbon, Colombia said:

“To share spaces of power at workplaces and unions, we need more women in leadership. We need representation by women who understand the issues and training is needed to address the non-participation of women.”

The meeting recommended engaging multinational corporations on gender equality and including clauses in existing agreements. Integrating a gender perspective in human rights due diligence across the supply chain and investor leverage campaigns were identified as key.

“Gender equality is a developmental issue. We must ring-fence positions for women through quota systems and train union leaders in gender mainstreaming,”

said Vida Brewu, Ghana Mine Workers Union.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for said:

“Promoting gender equality to stop the marginalization and discrimination of women is important. Gender-sensitive due diligence should be integrated in sustainable mining as reflected in Sustainable Development Goals and other UN documents.”